Don’t drink the water: Study flunks air carriers on quality of H20

August 30, 2019

Despite recent stories about plastic particles in bottled water, most Americans reach for a glass or container of H20 when they want something relatively pure and unsullied to drink. Think again, if you are ordering a potable onboard any U.S. air carrier.

A 2019 Airline Water Study released on August 28 by Diet Detective and the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center at the City University of New York has revealed

that the quality of drinking water varies by airline, and many airlines have possibly provided passengers with unhealthy water.

Unhealthy water violates the EPA’s Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR), which was implemented in 2011 and requires airlines to provide passengers and flight crew with safe drinking water.

The new study ranks 11 major and 12 regional airlines mainly by the quality of water they provided onboard its flights. Each airline was given a “Water Health Score” (5 = highest rating, 0 = lowest) based on ten criteria—including fleet size, ADWR violations, positive E. coli and coliform water sample reports and cooperation in providing answers to water-quality questions. A score of 3.0 or better indicates that the airline has relatively safe, clean water.

“Alaska Airlines and Allegiant win the top spot with the safest water in the sky, and Hawaiian Airlines finishes No. 2,” says Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH, the editor of and the executive director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center.

The airlines with the worst scores are JetBlue and Spirit Airlines, the study shows. “Except for Piedmont Airlines, regional airlines need to improve their onboard water safety,” Platkin says.

Indeed, the study found that nearly all regional airlines, except Piedmont, have poor Water Health Scores and a large number of ADWR violations. Republic Airways (which flies for United Express, Delta Connection, and American Eagle) has the lowest score at 0.44 on a 0-to-5 scale and ExpressJet is second-lowest at 0.56. ExpressJet averages 3.36 ADWR violations per aircraft.

The researchers warn that if an aircraft flies to numerous destinations, drinking water may be pumped  into its tanks from various sources at domestic and international locations. The water quality onboard also depends on the safety of the equipment used to transfer the water, such as water cabinets, trucks, carts, and hoses.

* Here’s the bottom-line advice from DietDetective and the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center. To be extra safe:

  • NEVER drink any water onboard that isn’t in a sealed bottle,
  • Do not drink coffee or tea onboard,
  • Do not wash your hands in the bathroom; bring hand-sanitizer with you instead.

To see the airline health scores for the carrier you are flying, visit the website for the study:

Research contact:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *